Fidel where does all the money go?

For any cigar fan the ultimate cigar is a Cuban. The Dominican ones just aren’t quite the same and don’t quite have the same kudos. So when on honymoon in cuba a few weeks ago we made sure to visit the Partagas Cigar Factory in Havana. For a geek like me it was fascinating – learning how cigars are made, the leaves are selected and watching a couple of hundred people in a room all rolling cigars. The quality control was impressive, with all the cigars made by new employees checked, and even around 70% of those made by longer term employees checked. The Partagas factory makes most types – Partagas (obviously), Romeo & Juliet, Montecristo, Cohiba and lots of others. We saw some new Cohibas been made that sell at around €50 each.

Now that’s where the experience started to turn a little sour. The workers in the factory get paid around €30 a month. Most of them make 100-200 cigars a day. If they don’t meet their quota or produce too many rejects they have to work longer to make it up. It transpired from conversations with a few locals that the factory workers aren’t so happy that what they get paid a pittance for gets sold for such large sums. Say each cigar you make sells for €5 each and you make 150 a day, 5 days a week that’s a retail value of €3750. And the person who makes it gets less than 1%.

When you remember that Cohiba, Romeo & Juliet, Montecristo etc are all state owned, that means the profits go to the state. Yet so many people in Cube live in such poverty. People are earning very little across the board – doctors included – as this great article in the Irish times highlights. We saw so many families living in cramped conditions in Havana in buildings that were literally crumbling. Back at the time of the revolution Fidel said:

“we are fighting to do away with dictatorship in Cuba and to establish the foundations of genuine representative government”

Fidel what happened to your ideals? Where is all the money going?

Probably the biggest thing tourists are warned about in Havana isn’t safety. For a city with little street lighting Emily and I felt pretty safe walking around at night. The thing tourists are warned about is buying ‘fake cigars’. I assumed this meant you had people making them at home – which in some cases is true – people who have worked in cigar factories and know how to make them. It turns out that everyone who works in a cigar factory gets an allowance of a couple of cigars a day – often ones that aren’t quite perfect. so many of the ‘fakes’ are simply these ones that people sell on. However I also realised in a factory making tens of thousands of cigars a day it must be pretty easy for a few to be slipped into a bag. It made me think maybe the reason the government is so worried about ‘fake’ cigars sold on the streets is that the money is going t the workers and not to them…

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